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The Power of Motivation

Discerning what utility employees consider important.

Fortnightly Magazine - January 2012

and understand what motivates employees, then it’s equally important to determine the root cause of personal or organizational factors that foster negative attitudes and low morale.

Demotivatators that might exist within a work environment aren’t just the opposite of motivators. They are a separate set of concerns and behaviors that are counterproductive to building a team of enthusiastic, loyal and energetic employees. Those surveyed consistently report that mixed messages, unclear directions, and constantly changing priorities all contribute to a sense of frustration and lack of commitment.

The five most commonly identified demotivating factors are inadequate communication, ineffective leadership, inadequate tools and equipment, micromanagement, and a lack of accountability.

Limited or Poor Communication: Negative attitudes, reduced confidence, and lack of teamwork are all stated results of what happens when employees have little to no information of what’s going on within their company. When they don’t have accurate information they’ll typically create their own, based on rumors and gossip. Lack of timely and accurate communication is almost always emotionally linked to feelings of disrespect and indifference.

Transforming how organizations communicate represents a cultural change that has to be driven at the very highest level. The message is clear: workers absolutely want management to spend more time with them in the plant or field—not just when there are technical or safety problems, but as partners in the business. A line foreman echoes the shared sentiments of most when he says, “Give us a chance to help this company grow, make changes, increase teamwork and design safe work projects.” Motivating individuals and work teams begins when both parties feel safe sharing ideas to make things better.

Many organizations, such as DP&L, DTE Energy, TXU and others, are working hard to improve their communication process. Bobbi Schroeppel, vice president of customer care, corporate communication, and human resources for NorthWestern Energy in Sioux Falls, S.D., says, “Both supervisors and employees are trained on the methods to create a common language and understanding. The basic tenet of the training is that we should all be direct and respectful in our communication.” As a best practice example, NorthWestern Energy expects leaders to provide direct and clear feedback. “Knowing what to expect and what the rules and expectations are is universally empowering,” Schroeppel says.

Ineffective Leadership & Supervisory Skills: Leadership skills that motivate employees are a learned set of behaviors, and not a birthright. Historically, operations personnel have been promoted based primarily on their technical competencies, and many of those promoted into lead or supervisory positions say they’ve received little to no training in how to build a motivated work team. A newly promoted gas operations supervisor says, “Sometimes, I feel like I don’t have the leadership skills necessary to succeed.” What was once a highly motivated top performer becomes a frustrated and discouraged supervisor. Technical expertise doesn’t necessarily translate into the ability to lead others. The following examples illustrate best practices for ensuring newly promoted leaders have the basic survival skills essential for success.

Xcel Energy and Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) are two of many utilities that have